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home : columnists : columnists July 25, 2017

3/15/2017 4:00:00 AM
Celebrating 60th on Appalachian Trail
Photo providedNoblesville’s Vinona Christensen began her journey on Sunday to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Photo provided

Noblesville’s Vinona Christensen began her journey on Sunday to hike the Appalachian Trail.

By Betsy Reason

Noblesville's Vinona Christensen attempted to walk the Appalachian Trail in 2007 on her 50th birthday and made it 800 miles.

That was an amazing feat in itself. Especially since it was the first time that she had ever been backpacking.

Now, 10 years later, she returns to the trail for her 60th birthday, determined to hike the entire Appalachian National Scenic Trail, from Georgia to Maine.

When Christensen began her journey on Sunday afternoon, from Springer Mountain, Ga., she was more determined than ever.

"When I hiked the last time, I got off after doing 800 of the then 2,175 miles (the trail is 2,190 miles now)," she told me earlier this month. "Mentally, I just couldn't do it anymore."

There were bad days, like cold, rainy weather and swollen, achy knees. But there also good days where she found beauty in front of her. "You just have to open your eyes and mind and recognize it."

She said, "At first, the challenges are mostly physical. Your body does not appreciate being asked to walk eight to 10 hours a day with roughly 30 pounds on your back, going uphill and downhill, over and over again." Though her body got in shape, she said, "The aches and pains never leave you, you just get used to them."

While she experienced about every emotion while hiking the trail, she found the journey difficult to put into words. And while she was regrets that she didn't hike the entire trail, she never expected to return.

But then last fall, she recalled, "It hit me out of nowhere that I had to go back." Returning to the trail was "a calling."

So what inspired her to walk the trail the first time around? "In 2007, I was going to turn 50 years old and wanted to do something special. I thought of a couple of things and then the Appalachian Trail popped into my head. And that was it; it wouldn't go away. I had never even been backpacking before, so I don't know why it called to me, but it did."

Christensen, who has worked at Conner Prairie in Fishers since 1989 and is currently the membership manager, is taking off six months from her job to try it again.

While she's 10 years older, she's also wiser. And while she admitted she was more prepared the first time, with research on gear and cooking methods, she's learned what works and doesn't work.

She departed with a backpack loaded with five days of food, 1.5 quarts of water, tent, cooking gear, sleeping bag, pad, clothes and more, weighing in around 30 pounds.

She writes and shares photos from her new 6-inch portable keyboard and invites folks to follow along on her journey on her blog at https://vinonahikes.tumblr.com/

Christensen's life isn't about achieving or getting ahead. It's about living.

One event in her life "change everything about me, who I am, what I hold as important and how I view everything," she said.

Her husband was killed in a car crash when she was 38 years old. At the time, she was going to school, working on her PhD. "After having been a stay-at-home mom, it was my time to become something. When Todd died, none of that mattered anymore. I saw very clearly how very short and precious life is and how important it is to appreciate what you have while you have it," she said. "Once you get enough money to live on, the rest of your time needs to be spent enjoying your life and the people that you love. While I would give anything to have my husband back, I consider myself very fortunate to have learned that lesson at a young age, so I didn't waste any more of my life doing things that I didn't want to for the wrong reasons."

She said some people call her "brave." But she said, "I am no different than anyone else. I have had anxiety attacks before boarding a plane to go somewhere and had to force myself to follow through. I don't want my fears to limit my life. I think it's important to constantly push them back or they will make your life smaller and smaller until you can't let anything new into your life. Anyone can do anything if they don't let fear and doubt stop them. The Appalachian Trail has been hiked by a blind man and a woman in her 70s. A former president went sky diving on his 90th birthday."

She said, "Common people do extraordinary things all of the time. You just have to make yourself get out there and do it."

-Contact me at betsy@thetimes24-7.com

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